Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 7, 2013

Restoring the grasslands

Trustees cut 15 acres of trees to replenish meadow landscape

By Bill Kirk

---- — In 1957, when John Kimball moved into his grandmother’s house, located in the middle of what is now the Ward Reservation off Prospect Road, he could look east over open fields and an apple orchard.

Nearly 60 years later, that vista had become crowded out by a heavy growth of trees, all but destroying the orchard and the meadow ecosystem that had grown up around it.

Last year, the Trustees of Reservations, which owns much of the Ward Reservation that straddles Andover and North Andover, hired a tree company to come in and cut 15 acres of those trees as part of a habitat restoration program.

Today, the field looks much as it did almost 50 years ago, except that only a few apple trees survived and there are still some stumps left following the forestry operation that took place over the course of a year, starting August 2012 and ending this past summer.

Russ Hopping, ecologist for the Trustees, said that by clearing the forest, the property returns to its post-colonial condition, when much of Massachusetts was made up of fields crisscrossed with stone walls.

“Massachusetts was 80 percent deforested,” he said. “And grassland habitat supports species like the bobolinks.”

Kimball, who still lives on the property, said that clearing the site should bring back more of the bobolinks, a small, lark-like blackbird that has become scarce in recent years.

“We hope to get more of them,” he said. “I want people in years to come to see what the agrarian landscape was like 100 to 150 years ago.”

Hopping said much of Massachusetts is now covered with second-growth forest, or trees that have grown up after being logged at least once before. Cutting back that second-growth forest, he said, opens up habitat that was once common in Massachusetts, but is now harder and harder to find.

“We are looking to retain viable patches of landscape,” he said. “This will be a meadow that will be mowed once a year.”

The project was funded through a $9,000 state grant from the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. It was used to pay a North Shore tree-cutting company, Mayer Tree Service, which then came in, cleared the land, and sold most of the timber for firewood.

The 15-acre field slopes downhill from another, 12-acre meadow on top of a hill behind Kimball’s house. He said management of existing meadows has brought in a huge number of bluebirds, which share territory peacefully with tree sparrows.

The land is also frequented by deer, which can be hunted by certified bow-hunters during certain times of year.

Part of the project was also aimed at controlling invasive species of plants and trees that are choking out native species.